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THE DARK ECHOES OF HISTORY

How conflict trauma impacts on future generations

March 22nd 2018 – By Professor Martin Parsons, Trustee, former Director of the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading


In 1900, Ellen Kay, a Swedish educationalist and author, declared that the 20th Century would be the ‘Century of the Child’. In reality it was to be a century in which children all over the world would be drawn into two world wars, civil unrest, sectarian violence and acts of terrorism.

In some cases, as in various countries in Africa, they would become pawns of both local war lords and national armies. In others, like Spain (1936-39) and Argentina (1976-83), they simply disappeared because of the political persuasion of their parents.

Unfortunately, in the 21st Century little has changed, except we now have the advantage of being much more aware of the psychological impact that conflict has on society at large and especially on children. We are now conscious of the fact that conflict-related trauma in children can transcend three generations so, unless action is taken now, many countries could be dealing with serious mental health problems way into the future. For many years, post-World War Two, the plight of children in war zones was not considered to be a worthwhile area of research as a result they were, and to some extent still remain, the ‘invisible victims’ . Unfortunately, comments like ‘Why bother, they will grow out of it’, or ‘They are children and children are resilient’ are still common, especially among adults who have no concept of what living in a war zone actually means.

Although we know that the consequences are real and far reaching, we don’t have the required numbers of psychologists and psychiatrists on the ground to help deal with the problems faced by individuals and communities who are confronted daily by the fallout and long-term effects of military actions and sectarian violence. For some individuals each day is one of struggle and survival and it is little wonder that many suffer severe mental trauma. One of the reasons why ‘Beyond Conflict’ was established was the realisation that there is a need to assist the young people in areas of conflict and those living in an environment of reconstruction where support for those affected comes a long way down the list of priorities.

We all need to be aware that this situation will not resolve itself, but will require a long, determined effort to overcome.

 


Unfortunately, comments like ‘Why bother, they will grow out of it’, or ‘They are children and children are resilient’ are still common, especially among adults who have no concept of what living in a war zone actually means.

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